Program Philosophy

The graduate program in the Center for Atmosphere Ocean Science is fundamentally interdisciplinary in nature, and seeks to train mathematically talented students both in the tools of modern applied mathematics and disciplinary atmosphere ocean science. The Courant Institute at New York University has a world-leading reputation in applied mathematics and scientific computation and the placement of the Center within the Courant Institute provides a unique platform for interdisciplinary research at the highest level. Of great importance is the fact that faculty in CAOS are active members of the international science community in all of the scientific disciplines intersecting with the mission of the Center.

Approval for the CAOS Ph.D. program was sought in part because it was felt that such a program would aid a crucial need in the AOS research community: the paucity of quality students entering AOS graduate education and research noted recently by Vali et al., 2002. A quote from that report states the issue clearly:

"Participants in the 1999 UCAR Forum on the future of the atmospheric sciences confirmed that there is a serious problem regarding the quantity and quality of students entering the atmospheric and related sciences (including oceanography, space science, and earth science). In a subsequent UCAR survey on broad topics, conducted during June and July of 2000, we received more comments on the quantity and quality of graduate students than on any other issue. [...] Apparently many university departments around the world are experiencing similar difficulties recruiting highly skilled students in the environmental sciences. [...] Anecdotal evidence suggests that this decline has led to increased competition nationally for good students, a shortfall of graduate students to assist in teaching, and a smaller pool of students to contribute to the university research efforts. If the decrease is truly widespread and persistent, the number of Ph.D. graduates could be insufficient to meet national needs in the near future.[...] The [earth science] community may face a significant shortfall in Ph.D.s by the year 2011."

The importance of climate research is universally acknowledged because the success of this research enterprise has potential impact on all life on our planet. Pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the immensely complicated climate processes that occur and interact over vastly different length and time scales is crucial for reducing the uncertainty in much needed climate forecasts. Despite this well recognized and documented need, recruitment of high-caliber graduate students and researchers into this field has been difficult. Basically, students with exceptional mathematical and computational ability are often drawn to other fields before they become aware of the possibilities in atmosphere ocean science.

Our unique PhD program combines rigorous mathematical course work with disciplinary research in atmosphere ocean science. It is an exceptionally popular and highly selective program that can admit only about 10% of applicants. This is a clear indication of the pressing need for interdisciplinary graduate education of this type. By drawing students from new pools of talent, our program seeks to be a significant channel for the recruitment and training of top-class students into the important and highly interdisciplinary fields of atmosphere, ocean, and polar science.

The distinct focus of the program complements local area institutions - Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University - whose members participate in the CAOS colloquium and in collaborative research. These programs are focusing on more applied aspects of AOS modeling, such as data assimilation into global climate models, and have a somewhat different student audience. In addition, program faculty have research connections with such institutions as the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Rockefeller University, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.